5.0 Mustang & Super FordsFeatured Vehicles
1981 Ford Mustang - Level Up
Not many Fox coupes are on the level of Robby Miller's '81 T-top
Some guys just can't sit still and enjoy a Mustang. They must constantly have something to work on. For example, Robby Miller had finally purchased the Mustang of his dreams, an '04 Mystichrome Cobra. With a Kenne Bell supercharger, the drop-dead gorgeous coupe made over 630 hp at the tires, and we featured it in our April '11 issue ("Next Level," p. 106). We thought the Mystichrome would be Robby's forever, but the car was unable to keep Robby from saying "next."
Robby says the Mystichrome Cobra wasn't "something he created." In other words, he didn't really have to work hard at getting attention with the car, and people would always say, "Anyone could buy a Mystichrome and, if in the right place, get national coverage."
That just wouldn't do for Robby. He needed to create something not built by Ford, but built by himself. He needed to have his own blood, sweat, and tears in the car to get to the next level. "For me, modifying the car has always been at the top of the list-big rims, big brakes, big engine, cool interior, and just enough 'show' to make you want to look," Robby says.
That thought lead him to look for another Fox Mustang build, but not just any Fox would do. He wanted a rare model to really stand out in the crowd. That lead to Saleen SCs, McLarens, or '93 Cobras. Had he moved on one of those, Robby would've been right back where he was with the Mystichrome. "What I wanted was something I had never seen in person," Robby says. Accomplishing that feat with a Mustang is not easy. We're all looking for individuality with our Mustangs, but Robby was looking for the unicorn of Mustangs.
His good friend Jeff King had what Robby wanted-a T-top coupe! However, Jeff wasn't parting with the car, so Robby had to get his own. He started with the usual online forums, but a local ad for a set of wheels caught his eye. He didn't really want the wheels, but the T-top coupe in the background stole the online show. A few private messages later, a deposit was on the way.
What Robby found was an '81 T-top coupe. "The car was a factory straight-six with an automatic transmission," Robby says. To Robby, that was good on a few fronts, but most importantly, he figured the car wasn't beat within an inch of its life at every stoplight. The car was a low-option LX without A/C or a console. Upon teardown, the car was better than he thought, without rust damage to the original floorpans.
What's more, the previous owner gave Robby a copy of the original title and all the build data on the car, along with a ton of insightful and great information. Initially Robby wasn't in a hurry to get going on the car since he still had the Mystichrome Termi. However, he kept hearing of deals too good to pass, so he started gathering parts.
He envisioned the completed project, and this helped him get busy tearing out the drivetrain and pulling off body panels. "It was just supposed to be a starting point for a long-term project, but I couldn't stop," Robby explained. He stopped off at the parts store, grabbed lots of sand paper, and started sanding. "I stripped the car down to bare metal from front to back."
A phone call to Robby's friend Jason Smoot led to a smoothed engine compartment. Jason welded while Robby used a grinder, Bondo, sandpaper, and more Bondo and sandpaper, to arrive at the finished product. Then Robby attacked the T-top's underside where, as he put, "It received the cleaning of its life." Following the cleaning, Robby painted the underside, trunk, and interior of the car using Rustoleum Hammered paint.
Another friend, Mark Spicer of Spicer Specialties, did the bodywork on the car, applying the Sikkens G4 Redfire paint not only on the body, but in the jams and engine bay to complete the color change. "Mark smoothed the panels of the car to a mirror-like finish before even spraying the paint," Robby explained.
As you can see, the depth of the paint is amazing. "Looking into it from 15 feet away you can still count the blades of grass," Robby added.
Robby didn't stand pat with the factory '81 body work, either. However, he didn't go the aero route. He simply added an '82 GT nose with an H.O. Fibertrends cowl hood. Robby and Mark applied satin black paint to all the trim, which matches the car's True Forged Mach 5 wheels perfectly. Mark was unsure of Robby's choice to add the '82 GT nose, but after the pair cut and buffed the paint a final time, and fit wheels to the car, the two backed up for an overall look at the car. They were rendered speechless, which turned into both of them smiling and giggling like a couple of school girls.
Up to this point in the car's build, Robby wasn't quite sure what mechanical direction he would go. That decision was made a little easier when he ran across an ad for a Four-Valve Fox Mustang needing nothing but a new body. That seemed the perfect answer for Robby's T-top. Robby bought the car and even drove it a month to make sure the mechanicals would serve its intended purpose.
To pull off the swap, he decided to part with his beloved Mystichrome Cobra to focus all his attention on the T-top. "I coughed up the Mystichrome and started pouring my heart and soul into finishing up this car," Robby confessed.
He wanted to have the car done in time for the '11 Mustang Week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "I knew with 300 show cars it would be the best place to present the car," he added. Plus, he wanted to find out if his vision was truly rare, and Mustang Week presented the perfect opportunity to find out.
After a month of making sure the modular mechanicals were sound, he began tearing apart the modular Fox to transfer parts to the T-top. He made sure to separate and use the good parts, while selling off the parts he didn't want to use to help offset costs. Having the donor car right there, and in good mechanical order, it was a lot easier than starting from scratch.
He started by swapping over the donor car's 8.8 rear with welded axle tubes, FRPP 4.10 gears, five-lug axles, and an '03 Cobra rear disc conversion. The donor car's 8.8 featured a rear disc conversion, but Robby decided that was one area he wanted to improve.
Another area he wanted to improve was the transmission. The donor car had a T45 behind the Four-Valve, but a five-speed wasn't enough for Robby, he wanted six. As such, he sourced an '03 Cobra T56. Rounding out the trans swap, Robby added an aluminum driveshaft, an MGW shifter with a Hurst Pistol Grip knob, and a SPEC Stage 2 clutch. The donor car provided the clutch pedal assembly and Steeda Autosport aluminum quadrant, as well.
Running out of time before Mustang Week, Robby didn't have time to build up the engine so he left it stock, simply adding MAC's long-tube headers and Pro-Chamber with a Flowmaster after-cat exhaust, Steeda Autosports underdrive pulleys, and a polished Cobra intake.
"It served its purpose by getting me to Mustang Week, and while I was there, I picked up Best in Class for '79-'86 Mustangs," Robby says. Accordingly, the car stockpiled compliments from show- goers, the Mustang Week staff, and sponsors, and a lot of attention from Editor Turner's camera since that's where the car was photographed. "I was humbled to say the least," Robby confessed.
With the mad rush to make Mustang Week behind him, it was time for the mad rush to get the car back home so Boosted Performance's Donnie Salem could work his magic on the car. Robby's comfortable with doing most mechanical work, but building an engine is a little outside his realm of expertise, so he had Donnie go through a MMR 900 short-block he purchased online. Donnie also added Stage 3 ported '96-'98 B-series heads with Crower Stage 3 cams. A ProCharger P-1SC supercharger added needed boost, and the combination was tuned by Amazon Tuning Solutions' Rick Erdman.
"To say I'm pleased with the new engine combination is an understatement. It definitely puts a smile on my face every time I drive it, and with the new cams it's hard to mistake its arrival at the local cruise-ins," Robby said.
In all, it took Robby a year to build the car. "I tell people I built the car in a year, but it took four years off my life," Robby says. He makes that statement with a smile because it's been a dream of Robby's to take a car, and with a vision in mind, watch it come together like a fine piece of art. This vision, along with Robby's intrinsic motivation, is what drove him to level up from his Mystichrome to his custom '81 coupe. 5.0
Horse Sense: The night Robby got the car back after having the engine compartment painted, he installed the engine and transmission in the car and had it back on all fours...in his basement. He didn't get done until 4 a.m. and slept on the basement couch.
5.0 Tech Specs'81 Coupe
Engine and Drivetrain
Block '03 Cobra
Crankshaft '03 Cobra w/Innovators West 10-percent over- driven harmonic balancer
Rods Manley H-beam w/ARP rod bolts
Pistons Manley w/18cc dish
Camshafts Crower Stage 3 blower
Cylinder heads Stage 3-Ported '96-'98 Cobra B series w/ARP head studs, Comp Cams Beehive valvesprings, and Comp Cams titanium retainers
Intake manifold '98 Cobra w/stock throttle body, and VMP Tuning/HPX blow-through mass air
Power Adder ProCharger P-1SC w/ 3.90-in blower pulley, 14 pounds of boost, ProCharger intercooler, and Boosted Performance custom piping
Fuel system 255-lph in-tank fuel pump w/Vortech T-Rex inline fuel pump; -8 feed and -6 return fuel lines; and Seimens 60-lb/hr fuel injectors
Exhaust MAC long-tube headers w/Pro Chamber, Flowmaster one-chamber mufflers, and LX tailpipes
Transmission Tremec T-56 w/SPEC Stage 2 clutch, MGW shifter, and Hurst Pistol Grip knob
Rearend 8.8-in w/4.10 gears, welded axle tubes, and FRPP 28-spline axles
Engine management '98 Cobra PCM w/SCT tuning by Amazon Tuning Solutions
Ignition Stock w/MSD coils, and FRPP 9mm spark plug wires
Gauges Auto Meter Phantom, Aeroforce dual scan gauge, and Innovate Motorsports wideband
Suspension and Chassis
K-member Anthony Jones Engineering tubular
A-arms Anthony Jones Engineering tubular
Struts Strange Engineering 10-way adjustable w/ Maximum Motorsports caster/camber plates
Springs QA1 coilover
Brakes '03 Cobra w/cross-drilled rotors
Wheels 18x8-in True Forged Mach 5 three-piece
Tires BFGoodrich g-Force 265/35-18
Shocks Strange Engineering 10-way adjustable
Springs H&R Race
Control Arms Maximum Motorsports Weight Jacker lowers, and HP Motorsport adjustable uppers
Brakes '03 Cobra w/cross-drilled rotors
Wheels 18x10-in True Forged Mach 5 three-piece
Tires BFGoodrich g-Force 295/35-18